Bringing Back the Story: Wellbound Storytellers and Health Empowerment


The Navajo Sugar Monster

Long ago the Holy People predicted that a monster would take over the Navajos.

Our mothers and fathers would change…No longer were man and woman together.

One after another this monster ate away their faces.

It gnawed away Navajo identity….Everything turned from light to dark….Words ceased to exist.

The Holy People begin to cry.

The Navajo language meets its end…Mouths would soon close entirely.

X marked the spot….Over the eyes and mouths of the people.

The Navajo were not human anymore.

They were beings who craved only one thing

It was not water or food…Nor prayer or traditions…Nor love or family.

The Holy People were right.

Sugar is our monster.

A killer claiming Navajo lives…With a craving that could never be satisfied

Who are these monsters?

Mom? Dad?  Where are the elders? Where is my family?  Who will save us?

It’s going to claim the next generation if things don’t change…

We must stand and make a change…Stand up and fight against this monster

For you…For your family,

Your mother, Your father, Your children

For your Nation.

by Chantelle Yazzie (A neo-traditional story published on Wellbound Storytellers.)

Stacy Braiuca is one of the Native Americans writing for Wellbound Storytellers.  “There are currently 11 ‘Wellbounders’ all over the country, all different Nations, ages, backgrounds.  We try to write about strengths and weaknesses in our journey.  Not only are we trying to be a group of leaders to start a movement of storytelling, but storytelling is a natural fit to health empowerment.”

Just a year old, The WellBound Storytellers “blog is specifically trying to use storytelling to empower people, ourselves and others, on our health journey.”  Indeed, storytelling is essential to the wellness of native people.  “We have always told stories to pass our values, lessons, and learning to the next generation,” Ms Braiuca relates.

Ms. Braiuca is a Clinical Social Worker and Public Health educator. She works full time as a Research Associate for thewpid-Photo-Mar-22-2012-941-PM Center for American Indian Community Health and Healthy Living Kansas at the University of Kansas Medical Center, working on research projects about cancer, obesity, and health literacy.  She is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation (hence CPN).   According to the CPN website, “The CPN are Algonquian-speaking people who originally occupied the Great Lakes Region of the United States.  Originally the Potawatomi were part of the Three Fires Council made up of Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Odawa, collectively known as Anishnabek peoples.”

Staying connected to one’s heritage is important to health according to Ms. Braiuca.  “Citizen Potawatomi Nation has members globally. They have the first population representative legislative government of contemporary Indian Nations.  We live everywhere are all connected via …  CPN FaceBook pages and CPN website.”

“Native Peoples sharing their journey to wellness”is the tagline for the Wellbound Storytellers blog.  And the journey to wellness is definitely needed among Native People.

According to the Indian Health Service of the US HHS Fact sheets, native peoples have a lower life expectancy than all the races of the US.  The leading causes of deaths according to 2005-2007 data, are heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries and diabetes.  Native Peoples have higher rates of death by alcoholism (552%), diabetes (182%) and unintentional injuries (138%) than other Americans.

Ms Braiuca points to history in explaining much of the health disparities that plague Native people.  “Native health is a concern in all health areas. Disparities are woven into [our] history [as a result of the] 500 years of Colonial policy debacle.”  The issue of trust in western medicine is key among native culture “for example smallpox blankets, commodity food, Indian Health Service, reservations, removal [and] because traditional healthcare [has been] taken away,” Ms. Braiuca recounts. In fact “diabetes, cancer, and loss of culture and [traditional] medicine and language are tightly woven,” she says.

Native American genetic make up was not designed for Western diet and cultural habits.  Diabetes is a major health problem among native people.  The reasons vary but include “lack of prevention, poor healthcare and commodities like flour and sugar and lard, used to make fry bread which is not a traditional food!”  Traditional foods are the “three sisters– corn, squash, beans– and wild rice, fish and wild game,” Ms Braiuca says.

Another risk factor for Native people is smoking.  “We have the highest rates of smoking of any population in the US, over 40%,” Ms. Braiuca states.  However she is clear that this problem is connected with the recreational use of commercial tobacco, not from traditional, sacred uses.

Because of the issues of mistrust, any prevention effort must be community based. It is “imperative to [have] buy in of the community… plus LONG relationship building,” she says.  Part of the problem is a lack of native specific research which is hindered by tribal sovereignty, health systems and issues of trust.  The Center for American Indian Community Health, where Ms. Braiuca works, is one of the few places in the country doing community based research with Native Americans.

The Wellbound Storytellers blog employs all kinds of technology “oral/audio, video, art,  and written” to get their message across.  Most of the stories are neo-traditional “as in tradition being born but also recalling traditional stories,” Ms. Braiuca clarifies.  This is because traditional healing stories are unique to particular nations and these stories can only be told by certain individuals, elders.  Lamsam-Teresa-1449-5x7-color-qty001

According to Teresa Lamsam, another Wellbound Storyteller, those specific  individuals have a responsibility for the story. “Most of the stories that would be relevant [to healing] are considered to have healing within the telling of them — which is what creates the responsibility for the person who carries the story.  The person who receives the story also has responsibility.  Usually, a ceremony must accompany the story.”

Bringing back the story to heal is the message of the Wellbound Storytellers.  “Storytelling is not just limited to the younger generation listening to the older one, it is perfectly appropriate to flip that script.”  And that is just what these storytellers are trying to do.


“A Needed Response”

Public health is about keeping people safe…be it through immunizations, assuring clean water or preventing gun violence.  Here is another safety issue we need to address:

A story about a friend…

There was once a very protected girl.  She did not date until she was 18.   She was an innocent.  She told the boy that she was dating that she would not have sex until after marriage.

She shared champagne with this boy and drank too much.  The next thing she remembered was going to the bathroom, feeling pain and seeing bright red blood.

The boy said to her, “I’m so glad I was the first.”

She continued to date this boy….thought she had to marry him.  She almost took her life.   Only with counseling did she realize she had been date raped.  She broke off contact with the boy.  She spent years in therapy.

He  became a successful physician.

Watch this incredible video with an important message.  It should be part of every boy’s and girl’s education.

Leading Breast Cancer Experts report on prevention of cancer through reducing exposures to chemicals and radiation in our environment. We can help to move this information forward into an action plan within the Obama administration by following a link described in Susan’s blog post. As Margaret Mead so eloquently stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

A4BC Founder's Blog

Yesterday I put an article in my Breast Cancer Newspaper about a federal committee of leading breast cancer experts that released a report about reducing our exposures to chemicals and radiation in our environment. Today I received an email from Jeanne Rizzo, R.N.
President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund stating that she is serves as a co-chair with the federal committee.

congressimagesThe report, “Breast Cancer and the Environment: Prioritizing Prevention,” concludes that “preventing environmental exposures is the most promising path to decrease incidence of the disease, and calls for a national breast cancer prevention strategy.”

The report’s first stop is the desk of U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who must create an action plan to implement the report. This action plan can lay the groundwork for a national prevention strategy that will require commitment and hard work from the Obama administration and Congress.”


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I won’t give up…

My child is a wizard…and a dragon rider…and a super hero.  He can play all these games with such agility that it boggles my mind.  So today when s/he asked me to join in on one of the games that he enjoys, I was honored and humbled and…nervous.

Above is the first 15 minutes of someone else’s play…I crashed the dragon into the ocean, into the rocks, pretty much every place it could be crashed.  Leaning right, leaning left, I kept trying to get into the experience and succeeded–in becoming nauseous with each flip and dip.

I’m hoping that I will be able to get the hang of it…my child’s disappointment heard in deep sighs and “MOM, you have to get back to the village” said in that sing-song tone of the despondent.  Yes, hopeless…

Yet according to research highlighted in New York Times Magazine, video game playing and other types of games can improve attention and fluid memory.  Since fluid memory is supposed to peak during young adulthood, it behooves anyone whose been 29 and holding for a couple of years to get playing.

So I shall persevere, overcome and increase my brain power with Lumosity and Riders of Berk!  And beat the pants off of those other repeating 29 year old (repeating) moms out there…. I challenge you!

To your health: Music!

I’ve been singing something a lot lately.  It’s silly really but it makes me feel better, keeps me going, even gives me courage…

why does this little ditty work?

Or why do I feel peaceful when listening to this piece of music?

I went looking for a journal article. Just to prove to myself that there was something in this sense of well-being.  Here it is.  In 2008 a group of physician researchers convinced 60 patients who had just had a middle cerebral artery stroke (they were “in the acute recovery phase”) to take part in a little experiment.  At random, the patients were placed in three groups, a music listening group, a “language” group and a control group.

Everyone took neuropsychological assessments, cognitive tests and quality of life at the begining, at 3 months and at 6 months after their stroke.  With all the testing its a wonder that only 6 patients dropped out of the project!

Everyone received the same standard of medical care and rehabilitation that they needed.  The differences were the listening assignments.  The music group listened to music daily, the language group listend to audio books daily, the control group were given no listening material.

Here’s the cool part.  The music group had significant improvement in verbal memory and in focused attention as compared with the other two groups…AND they were less depressed and confused than the control group.

So with this one journal article, I say: sing, turn on those mp3’s, radios, cds, even if you are still in the dark ages,  tapes, 8-tracks or records.  Have a blast with a tin penny whistle, a guitar, a piano, a cello, a french horn….It’s great for your health!

Sarkarmo, T. (2008)Music listening enhances cognitive recovery and mood after middle cerebral artery stroke.  Brain: The Journal of Neurology, 131(3). 866-876

Amazing Gratitude

I feel lucky when I find amazing quotations….

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way,

that some poems don’t rhyme,

and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end….

Life is about not knowing,

having to change,

taking the moment and making the best of it,

without knowing what’s going to happen next.

Delicious Ambiguity…”

                                                                                 Gilda Radner

It is very important to understand that life is change, constant change.  When you are young, permanence is important. As you age, you see the beauty in the change.  Without rain, wind, this beauty would have not been born.  We are also born and reborn through change.

Here is yet another wonderful quote to round out what Gilda Radner says.

“You gain strength,


and confidence

by each experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

                                                                    Eleanor Roosevelt

Both of these amazing women lived their lives to the fullest and did the things they thought they could not do.   I post them here to remind myself, to delight in their wisdom and to express gratitude for their words.

Searching for the smoke-free zone

West Virginia’s mountain are sharp and faceted compared to the rounded Appalachians of Virginia.  Kentucky’s horse country trots past and Indiana and Illinois’ corn fields reach to the big skies. It is a beuatiful drive to Minnesota.  But at each of our stops we have to hold our breath…smokers seem to rule.

Traveling from North Carolina which is a tobacco farming state, we thought we had seen the worst.  But no, we were in for a surprise.

As you can see, we were driving through states with the highest prevalence of adults who smoke.  Approximately 46.6 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes and each year around  443,000 people die from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.   Those who are exposed to secondhand smoke, an estimated 88 million Americans,  include 54% of children. Kids whose parents smoke are more likely to miss school from exposure to the second hand smoke than children of non-smokers.  Every year an estimated 3000 nonsmokers die from lung cancer and 46.000 from heart disease through exposure to secondhand smoke.

Research shows that laws and policies are most effective in protecting nonsmokers. The most effective are
increasing smoke-free regulations and laws. increasing the unit price of tobacco products, restriction of minors’ access to tobacco products and finally insurance coverage for tobacco use treatment.

Secondhand smoke gives me migraines.  How does it affect you?  What more should be done to protect those of us who don’t smoke?  Your thoughts…..

Just The Fats (whoops, I mean Facts) Ma’am

“How about super-sizing that?” commercials on TV taught us. Guess what? We’re the ones who have been super-sized. Adult obesity rates are increasing across the United States. In fact 16 states increased over the past year and not one experienced a decrease.

Obesity rates have grown fastest in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee, and slowest in Washington, D.C., Colorado, and Connecticut. The South continues to experience the most increases with nine of the 10 states having the highest adult obesity rates. States in the Northeast and West tend to have lower rates. Mississippi maintained the highest adult obesity rate for the seventh year in a row, and Colorado has the lowest obesity rate and is the only state with a rate under 20 percent.

Just as adult obesity rates have grown, childhood obesity rates are lumbering ever upward. The highest rates (20 to 25%) are in eight states, Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. Just out from the CDC is a study of 17,000 Americans conducted between 2005 and 2008. It found that half of all Americans drink a sugared beverage each day. Males are more likely to consume the sugary drinks than females, especially teenage boys. Again, lower income adults are more likely to drink sugary drinks than more affluent. Portion size seems to be a factor. For example, regular Coca-Cola’s come in a 12-once can that has 140 calories. According to CDC and others, to be healthy, people should limit their intake of sugary beverages to 64 calories per day. How many people do you know drink only half a can of Coke? No one…there’s no way to save the rest of the can…it will go flat.

A link has been found between sweetened drinks and the increasing obesity rate in the US.   With the increase in obesity rates comes an increase in diabetes rates. Only 15 years ago the highest state-wide rated was just under 20%; now 20% s is the lowest obesity rate. In that short amount of time, the number of states with over 7% diabetes rates has increased from 4 to 43. Hypertension rates have also shot up, every state reports rates above 20% and nine report rates of 30%.

The BBC reported Sept 1 that there has been a 30% increase in strokes between 1995 and 2008 in people ages 5 to 44.

The cost of obesity is hefty too. Obese individuals spend an average of $1500 more annually on health care and consume 30% more of health care costs than healthy weight individuals. That’s one beefy price tag.

So, what’s to be done? Stay tuned…same Fat time…same Fat station!

(This information is a short summary of a 2011 report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).The map by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) can be found on as an interactive map. Two versions are available, one for adult obesity rates and the other for childhood obesity rates by state. To see an interactive map of obesity rates by gender in see the Kaiser Family Foundation website.